Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Malaysian Dance Outrage Ends Up As a Mis-Step

It was a burning issue of national pride that stirred up the righteous anger of a nation slighted.

Well, not quite. A firestorm of Internet outrage over the supposed theft of the Balinese pendet dance for a Malaysian tourism ad turned out to be just hot air on Monday, when the Discovery TV network owned up and said that the dancers had appeared in one of its own TV promotions, and it was all a mistake anyway.

But not before Indonesia’s government, unaware of Discovery’s action, had already made an official protest to Malaysia.

The story started late last week, as rumors about the ad and reactions shot to the top of the social microblogging Web site Twitter’s hot topics list.

“Pendet is ours! Noordin M. Top is yours!” said one popular Twitter message, referring to the Malaysia-born terrorist suspect wanted in connection with the July 17 bombings in Jakarta.

Over the weekend, news stories had reported, erroneously, that the image of a traditional Balinese pendet dancer was used in an official Malaysia Tourism ad.

They were a touchpaper to reignite smouldering and long-standing antagonism between the two countries over the heritage of traditional songs and dances, and further stoked the furor on Twitter and Facebook.

The problem was, it was all wrong — and perhaps a lesson in the myth-making power of the Internet — as an apology statement by Discovery made clear: “Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific regrets that the image of a Balinese dancer, sourced from an independent third party, was used in the promotion of the series ‘Enigmatic Malaysia.’ The promotional clip has been removed from all feeds.

“The Balinese dancer was not featured in any way in the program. Discovery has the deepest respect for the traditions, cultures and practices of all races and nations, and it is not our intention to cause any misunderstanding or distress to any party.”

Widyarka Ryananta, a senior diplomat at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, confirmed that the Malaysian government had never made an ad featuring pendet. “It was all a misunderstanding. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” he told the Jakarta Globe.

By the time Discovery’s apology had been issued, Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik had already sent a letter to his Malaysian counterpart, demanding the ad campaign be removed. “It happened two years ago with Reog Ponorogo. We don’t want it to happen again to us,” he said.

He said a bilateral pact signed in 2007 stated that if both countries wanted to publicize a culture in a “grey area,” they had to consult with each other first. But pendet was a different story: “People around the world would recognize in a glance that pendet is a Balinese dance. There’s nothing grey about it.”

After the error had been explained, Jero called on Indonesians to quickly register all forms of Indonesian cultural heritage to prevent such misunderstandings from reoccurring.

“We have so much cultural heritage,” he said. “We may accidentally neglect some of them.”

Source : Jakara Globe
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